Research Project

Reframing Environmental Issues Through Still Life

Dr Dawn Woolley

Dr Dawn Woolley’s research examines and critiques consumer culture, considering the impact of commodification on identity politics and the environmental impact of advanced capitalism.

Alongside gallery exhibitions, she produces site specific works that intervene in commercial advertising spaces in cities and on social networking sites in order to disrupt the invasion of public space by advertising.

Still Life: Things Devouring Time exhibition

In 2018 Woolley collaborated with Dr Katie J. T. Herrington (Curator, The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds) to co-curate Still Life: Things Devouring Time, (21 November 2018 – 23 March 2019) a group exhibition of still life artworks that bring attention to the social and environmental impact of consumerism. Nathalie Tolmie-Thompson described the exhibition as: "an education. Still Life is an artistic genre I’d previously not really appreciated, but this ongoing exhibition’s powerful message about consumerism knocked me for six." Culture Vulture, 11 February 2019.

"I went into this exhibition with the full intention of appraising the pieces promptly with my inexperienced eyes and produce a standard 300 word feature piece. However, I became enchanted by the collection and spent a considerable amount of time lost in each of the works."

Nathalie Tolmie-Thompson, author at the Culture Vulture.

Nathalie continues; "[…] There seems to me to be a real irony of referring to still life art by such a name in this contemporary context, coming from a person without any art qualifications beyond a disappointing end of year mark in Year 9, as the pieces reflected here represent the antithesis of life. It could be perceived, with a dark sense of humour, that yes there is still life to be considered in this art, but it is increasingly endangered by the everyday objects human beings surround themselves with. Moreoever, subtitling the exhibition ‘Things Devouring Time’ is the punchiest of all punchlines once all the pieces have been observed and reflected upon. We should be as unsettled as we are enamoured by the efforts of Keeley, McCarthy, Ward and Woolley, in the knowledge that we and everything we hold dear to us, are very incrementally being destroyed by the product of our insatiable corner cutting, blind-eye turning and ruthless greed."

Stephanie Bennett described the exhibition as: "incredibly evocative" and "a visceral, transformative paradox of an exhibition." The Gryphon, 30 November 2018.

"Our current level of consumption is not sustainable; it is clearly doing a huge amount of environmental damage and this is the message that comes across clearly in the artworks on display […] There is a huge amount of thought-provoking material packed into a relatively small space in this rich and rewarding exhibition."

Yvette Huddleston, author for the Yorkshire Evening Post.

The exhibition received 3,487 visitors including 216 event participants. Visitor's comments included: ‘Illuminating and thought provoking,’ ‘Never encountered such a dense stimulation in an exhibition’ and ‘I found the exhibition very interesting and thought provoking.’

Recycled Relics workshops

In addition to the gallery-based exhibition, reproductions of artworks were exhibited in the form of posters in commercial advertising spaces around the city of Leeds, supported by a grant from the Lipmann-Milliband Trust. Two of the posters displayed in Leeds featured sculptures produced by participants of ‘Recycled Relics’ workshops. During the workshops, participants made sculptures using packaging material. This process acted as a conduit for discussions with participants about the environment, waste and consumerism. The poster featuring artworks by members of the National Saturday Art and Design club was also included in an exhibition in Summerset House, London from 8 – 16 June 2019, as part of the National Art and Design Club summer exhibition. The National Art and Design Club tweeted: "A highlight for the @UniversityLeeds Art&Design Club this year was working with artist and curator @dawn_woolley to create relic sculptures which Dawn photographed and compiled into a poster to be displayed on advertising boards around the city. #natsatclub @UoLArtsOutreach"

Modern Nature building wrap

In 2019 Woolley was commissioned by The Hepworth Wakefield and Wakefield Council to produce a building wrap design in response to the Modern Nature exhibition at The Hepworth. Woolley worked with members of the local community, including The Hepworth’s Art Social group (for young people not in education, employment or training) and students from Wakefield Adult Education centre, to produce a design that references the history and function of the historic Upper Mill building and the development of neighbouring land into a community garden.

After attending a workshop with a group of adult learners Cllr Michael Graham, Wakefield Council’s Cabinet Member for Skills, Digital and Technology Capabilities, said: "The class enjoyed Dawn’s visit so much and it is wonderful to see them learning new skills and enjoying themselves with new friends." Council class gets visit from Hepworth artist, 12 June 2019.

"The specially designed building wraps have proven to be an effective method of ensuring the continuing preservation of this important listed building. This new cover will not only continue to protect the watermill but with the addition of this thoughtful and imaginative design, created in part by local communities, will make a positive contribution to the conservation area."

Denise Jeffery, Cabinet Member for Economic Growth and Regeneration at Wakefield Council.

Visitors to The Hepworth Wakefield have also responded positively to the design, with one Twitter user commenting "Saw these the other day and thought they were beautiful."

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